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Relative Optimism

[whitespace] 'Grandma' Sue Wilson and friends
Urban Legend: 'Grandma' Sue Wilson, a Beach Flats institution who has helped raise several generations in the neighborhood, chats with some members of her extended family.

'Grandma' Sue Wilson is hopeful about plans to redevelop the neighborhood where she has lived for more than 25 years

'I'VE SEEN three generations grow up here," Grandma Sue Wilson beams proudly as she looks out over Third Street from her driveway. Wilson, known as Grandma Sue to just about everyone in Beach Flats, has been a permanent fixture since 1972.

When we first meet, she's helping three young women hunt through her living room for a pair of walking shoes. An older man has just left with a bag of canned goods. One of the women giggles as she picks through Grandma Sue's Easter basket of goodies propped next to the side screen door.

"She's my Grandma. She's everybody's Grandma," says Marie Moreno, a 20-year-old former Beach Flats resident.

For over two decades, Wilson has run Grandma Sue's Community Project, which is now based in her home near the San Lorenzo River. She provides everything from powdered milk to winter clothes for her neighbors, and she also prepares and delivers food to people in need.

"There are about 10 questions I get asked all the time," Grandma Sue says when asked about redevelopment plans for her neighborhood. "Almost every day someone asks me, 'Are they going to tear my house down?' or 'When are we going to have to move?' "

Wilson says she isn't completely opposed to redevelopment. She believes that some changes, including a new convention center at La Bahia and a stronger economy, could be very positive for the community. Yet for every hope, she has pressing concerns.

"I hear there are some environmental problems with the proposed changes," Wilson says. "But people living here have more immediate concerns. They want to know where they're going to live.

"There's just a lack of communication. People are scared, there are so many rumors. When people don't know what's going on, they assume. People need direct, accessible communication. When they've had meetings at night, there's been people gathered outside. But planning meetings from one to three in the afternoon--it's just a bad time for working people."

As Wilson speaks, her determined eyes contain the spark of an activist. Since people come to her with so many rumors about redevelopment, she's already put in several calls to the Planning Department requesting a fact-sheet of answers to the most commonly asked questions.

"They always call me back right away," she giggles, waving her hand modestly. "I think it's because they want to find out what I'm up to."

It's a safe bet Grandma Sue is up to something. Besides running her community projects program, she's raised 14 children--half adopted, but her kids all the same, she says.

"I hear from a lot of people that the city is just working with Mr. Canfield to make money. But I have to say that if the city is making money, it's not going into Scott Kennedy's pocket or Celia Scott's bank account. It's supposed to go to go to all of us. So we can't say we won't benefit from some changes."

Despite her optimism about the proposed convention center and shopping center, she has many unanswered concerns.

"What do they mean exactly by 'compatible housing'?" Wilson asks. She adds, "Before anything is done, we need to solve the traffic problem that already exists here."

"A lot of people talk about Canfield like he's the devil," Wilson says. With what is probably the highest-traffic living room in town, she undoubtedly hears more gossip than Oprah Winfrey. "But they keep talkin', and he keeps buyin.' He's the only one taking action. Just bitchin' doesn't get you anywhere."

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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